Blackjack is a game of chance, and no one can dispute this fact. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your mind and improve your skills while doing so. Card counting is by far the best way to play better blackjack. It’s become a topic of myths and legends, mainly because it’s so easy to learn but notoriously difficult to master.
Today, we’re going to show you exactly how it’s done. Whether it’s online or in land-based casinos, you can use our guide and tips to see what happens. We’re going to start with the basics and move on from there. Sounds good?
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Card counting is a blackjack skill that involves assigning values to different cards. In its most basic form, card counting treats higher cards as negatives while smaller ones are positive. Adding these values together can help you determine the approximate probability of a high/low card being revealed.
Card counting in blackjack is not predicting the next card. It does not guarantee a win, and it can lead to losses. And contrary to what casino owners and operators believe, it’s also not cheating. If you learn how to count cards in blackjack, it’s merely using your mind in a different way.
Think of it this way – to count cards means not to shoot in the dark but to have a slight indication of what’s left in the deck. If low cards are X and high cards are Y, the deck losing more X means that the remaining batch of cards overwhelming favors an outcome in which Y is revealed. It’s just maths, really.
In the US at least, no state or federal law explicitly forbids counting cards in blackjack. However, this doesn’t mean casinos aren’t allowed to ban the activity on their premises. Just like opera halls and expensive restaurants have the right to refuse entry to anyone they wish, casinos do too.
By counting cards, you’re risking getting kicked out, banned, or blacklisted. Nowadays, all land-based casinos in a state work together and share ban lists. In addition, it’s easy to get caught. There are high-definition cameras everywhere, and security teams often include body language experts that will alert the staff on the floor of your wrongdoings. It’s risky business, simply put.
Because online casinos exist, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t count cards. Mathematicians have proven that the technique works. And besides, there’s no way to get caught playing online. Even better, there are free blackjack games at various online casinos. This way, you can practice various card counting strategies without spending a dime.
Things have changed a lot in the last 20ish years, but casinos have gotten better at spotting counters, too. It’s a question of whether you’re willing to put the work in.
To learn how to count cards the right way, you need a routine for your practice sessions. Here’s how to approach the matter:
- Assign a value to each card in the deck. +1 is for 2 through 6, 0 for 7-9, and -1 for 10s and Aces.
- When the dealer pulls out a card, add the card’s value to the count once it’s revealed. Practice using your own deck or a free online blackjack game.
- The point of card counting is to keep a running count of what might be left in the deck. If the last five cards were K, Q, 10, 10, and 9, the probability of low cards being left is pretty high.
- After each round, do the following: if the overall count is negative, increase your bets*. If it’s positive, tone it down**.
* & **: When playing in land-based casinos, keep in mind that dealers know what you’re doing. If you’re going by the book and tweaking the bets just as expected, you’ll be discovered. For your safety, it’s best that you make the wrong move on purpose, just to break a pattern. If someone is watching you on camera and is suspecting you of card counting, this can throw them off.
Yes, counting cards at online casinos is not just possible but also very easy. No one’s monitoring your activities, although casinos have the discretion of banning you for potential foul play. Always read the Terms & Conditions on the site, lest you want to lose your funds.
Just to be safe, practice on free-play games and only join tournaments if you want to scratch that competitive itch. In addition, some casinos have software that shuffles the cards after each round. Still, you can use online blackjack as a training ground for when you decide to go to a land-based casino.
The strategy that we described in short above is called Hi-Lo. It got its name from the most common classification of cards in blackjack. When card counting, you want to gain a better understanding of not just the deck but other people at the table as well.
It’s so popular because there’s a real chance that you’ll never have to count beyond five. And in some cases (7, 8, and 9), the needle doesn’t move at all. From a statistical standpoint, it’s beneficial for the player to draw zero-value cards. They comprise 23% of the deck, and removing them lets you get to the gist – highs and lows.
A high brings you closer to your goal, and it’s assigned. Depending on the sum of your hand, you want to follow Basic Blackjack Strategy for making the optimal decision at any given moment.
TIP: When sitting in a brick-and-mortar casino, seats at the blackjack table are called bases. The first base is the one closest to the dealer, while the farthest is the third base. The best place to count cards is obviously third base since at least two players will be dealt cards before you. In addition, you get to place your bet after everyone else.
The Hi-Lo card counting technique is even used by some pros because of its simplicity. Nevertheless, it’s not exact enough to satisfy the needs of every situation. There can be 1326 two-card combinations in single-deck games. With each deck added to the shoe, the number rises exponentially.
To prepare for every outcome, you might want to try some of these expert blackjack card counting strategies:
This particular strategy involves using advanced mathematical analysis and teams of people to play on a single casino floor. It’s a technique popularized by the famous MIT card counting team. For 20 years, this ragtag squad ransacked casinos across the US. This approach requires a high level of organization and lots of pros in the mix. It’s an enterprise-like take on card counting.
Developed by blackjack expert Stanford Wong, this strategy lets the player spread their choice of values in order to gain a more exact insight into what’s left in the deck. Here’s how to count cards this way:
- 3, 4, 6 = 1
- 2, 7 = 0.5
- 5 = 1.5
- 8 = 0
- 9 = -0.5
- 10, Ace, face cards = -1
At first glance, this expert card counting strategy seems complex. The fractions certainly don’t do it justice. To avoid getting a mental tongue twist while counting, you can double the values so that none of them is a fraction. That way, you’ll still most likely remain in the single digits at the end of each round.
Another ‘advanced version’ of the Hi-Lo, Omega II was created by Bryce Carlson. It reverses the equation a bit, assigning the following values to each blackjack card:
- 2, 3, 7 = 1
- 4, 5, 6 = 2
- 9 = -1
- 10s , face cards = -2
- 8, Ace = 0
As always, the higher the count, the higher the probability of low cards being dealt. That’s a sign to decrease your bets slightly. Low counts are more extreme with the Omega due to the presence of -2. Still, it follows the same pattern and can be used after you master the Hi-Lo.
Some say that Group Play is a variation of the Multi-Deck, but some experts disagree. This is a more complex version, as players get to use subtle signals. If you’ve ever seen a movie about card counting, we’re talking about adjusting your glasses, scratching your head, or having a sip of your drink. These seemingly innocent activities can signal other players to join the table and turn the tides around.
It goes without saying that this can’t be done with a disorganized group of people. Everyone has to memorize the cues and be aware of what’s going on around them. A moment of carelessness can set the whole team back or get you all banned.
Even though our experts have years of experience in the gaming industry, this is not legal advice. We suggest that you visit an attorney or someone with legal expertise to advise on the consequences of card counting. And we don’t mean just the legal ramification, but also what the security staff can and cannot command you to do in these situations. Always know your rights.
With that being said, some jurisdictions have laws pertaining to counting cards. Nevada, for instance, treats the use of mechanical and electronic aids (smartphones, smart watches, etc.) to aid the use of card counting. In this case, you can and will be arrested if spotted by the casino staff.
Using your memory, however, is not forbidden. However, casinos have the right to ban whatever they want in their facilities, as long as it's not discriminatory in a criminal sense. Make no mistake – the casinos want to make money more than anything. This means they spare no expense in arming their venues with hi-tech security systems and having the best experts roam the floor.
Modern casinos have electronic money trackers on each table, so the pit boss can easily call for a dealer switch if too many wins occur at a single table. Make sure you’re aware of the rules of the house if you go to a brick-and-mortar casino. We advise you to master the techniques at online blackjack sites and have a friend accompany you.
Don’t just follow Basic Blackjack Strategy and blindly adjust your bets. Instead, add some finesse to your blackjack card counting skills with these tips:
- Be subtle. If you’re working as a group, make sure you’re altering between multiple signs so as not to reveal any patterns to the dealer and other staff. If alone, don’t mutter the score with your lips. Security cameras can zoom in and notice these things, believe it or not. Winning also causes unnecessary attention. Don’t have people around you yell and cheer. Accomplish your goal and get out.
- Land-based casinos are better. Online software uses automatic shuffling more often than not. You can still practice card counting, but you can’t see if it worked or not. Live dealer tables aren’t any more realistic, but they get the job done.
- Make mistakes on purpose. Be sure that the pit boss and the dealers have counted cards and seen people doing it more times than you ever will. They know it when they see it. So don’t forget to double when you shouldn’t and stand when it’s not a good idea to do so. This throws people off.
- Don’t get too confident. Blackjack is still a game of chance, which means that something can happen even if there’s a 0.000001% possibility of it occurring, it can occur. Don’t feel discouraged by getting the short end of the stick sometimes. It happens.
In most situations, you can’t get arrested for counting cards since it’s not a criminal offense. However, some jurisdictions have criminalized it or made it significantly difficult for players to do it. Always consult an attorney and know the house’s rules on card counting.
The technique itself is very easy, but there are lots of sub-strategies and special situations one has to consider. It’s very hard to master and requires a lot of practice.
Yes. Baccarat also allows players to count cards, but it’s significantly harder due to the rules and the form. It requires an impressive memory.
Since there is no tangible benefit to them, dealers don’t count cards. And besides, regulators would drop the legal hammer on any operator or casino owner that permits this.